Monday, June 13, 2011

Wash, Rinse, Repeat (pt 2) -- The 2012 Atlantic-10 Home and Away Slate

Flipping 2011 Home/Away Opponents
In addition to carrying the mirror opponents (home/away series opponents) from 2011, the Atlantic-10 schedule maker reversed the venues for the single game opponents. Charlotte visited Duquesne, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis and Temple in 2011. The 49ers will host those teams as single game opponents in 2012. Does this balance their schedule over the two season period? Remember that virtually no teams return their entire rosters season-over-season. The average of returning minutes in the A-10 next season (to this point) is about 66%.

Home & Away According to Pythagoreas & Seed...
I decided to take the average of the home and away Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP) -- conference games only -- for each team's set of opponents. I excluded mirror opponents (covered in the previous post) for this the compilation to focus on those match-ups that would not allow a return engagement (in the 2012 regular season). I also took the average A-10 conference tournament seed for each set of opponents, to determine if each team was facing an "average" set of opponents in the home or away setting -- the conference has 14 members, the "average seed" is 7.5...

Non-Mirror Opps.
George Washington0.5267.30.5658.5
La Salle0.4366.80.4887.1
Rhode Island0.5557.80.5468.4
Saint Joseph's0.2368.80.6914.6
St. Bonaventure0.5386.80.5558.5
Saint. Louis0.4775.50.3797.9

As the table suggests, there is a sharp contrast in the PWPs among visiting teams and hosts. George Washington, Rhode Island, St. Boanventure and Temple appear to have the strongest slate of non-mirror opponents, and Temple looks as if their slate of road opponents may be marginally easier than their slate of visitors (though the Owls did catch a huge break on their mirror opponents). Looking over the PWPs for road games, it appears that Massachusetts, Richmond and Saint Joseph's have their work cut out for them. For the Minutemen and Spiders, this could be problematic, as the UMass returns 60% of their 2011 scoring (points) and Coach Chris Mooney's squad returns just over 31% of theirs.
Different Strategies for Different Circumstances
A common wisdom approach to scheduling strategy might want to schedule the stronger opponents into the home arena, thereby using the home court advantage to maximum effect, while taking the weaker opponents on the opponents' home court with the notion they could be beaten in either location. For teams whose objective is to break out of the conference's lower division (or cellar...) however a counter intuitive strategy might be the better choice. Hosting weaker opponents would maximize the chances of winning conference games, while conceding the road loss to the conference's stronger teams. Very few coaches would embrace a strategy that concedes losses even before the season even starts, but as a practical approach to accumulating wins, programs like Charlotte and Fordham have few options, at least until they rebuild their programs. How do the non-mirror match-ups compare when looking at those two different approaches?

Looking for Wins...Any Wins
Rookie Coach Archie Miller may have caught a break from the schedule maker. Dayton graduated All Conference forward Chris Wright, while also losing freshmen Juwan Staten (West Virginia) and Brandon Spearman (Indian Hills CC) to transfer. The depleted Flyers return 58.4% of their minutes and 58% of their scoring. Drawing hosting duties for Charlotte, George Washington, La Salle, Massachusetts and Rhode Island without having to return the favor. Rhode Island at this point, is in line to return less than 25% of their 2011 minutes in 2012. Miller should be able to post a winning home record among these five opponents. The seed versus PWP spread for the opponents visiting the UD Arena in 2012 is interesting, about average for seed, but a comparatively low road PWP. The spread suggests those teams did not travel well in 2011.

Richmond, like Rhode Island, will have only 40% of 2011's minutes available going into 2012, a (mirrors excluded) home slate of Dayton, Fordham, La Salle (again!), Massachusetts (ditto!) and Temple should help build some confidence (and post wins) for the Spiders of tomorrow. Their (non-mirror) road slate however, should be a bit more challenging -- Duquesne, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis and Xavier. Should Coach Mooney's squad post a winning record versus those five, Richmond will be in a good position for post season consideration.

Massachusetts slumped at the end of their 2011 conference schedule, dropping their last regular season game to winless (in conference play) Fordham and then losing their A-10 first round game to Dayton. Lining up Charlotte, Fordham, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure and Xavier for home dates should help to establish a winning home record in conference play. True as visitors the Minutemen will be hard pressed to win more than one game from their road slate -- Dayton, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond and Temple -- but if they hosted those five would they win more than (say...) two?

Fordham's home slate -- Charlotte, Dayton, George Washington, La Salle and Xavier -- should provide the Rams with a few more winning opportunities than their road slate -- Duquesne, Massachusetts, Richmond, Saint Joseph's and Saint Louis. Returning a nucleus of Chris Gaston, Branden Frazier and Alberto Estwick provides Coach Tom Pecora with an opportunity to up Fordham's conference win total in 2012.

Making a Statement
St. Bonaventure has bettered their conference record in each of Coach Mark Schmidt's four seasons, finishing in the upper division 2011. With Andrew Nicholson a rising senior in 2012, the future maybe now, and the Bonnies drew a fairly balanced (in a PWP sense...) slate of (non-mirror) home and away opponents. Assembling a winning record at both home and on the road against those opponents would certainly serve notice the Bonnies are back, and probably put them in the conversation for a post season bid, preferably to a tournament whose name starts with an "N".

On paper George Washington appears ready to shop for more permanent digs in the A-10's upper division. Next season's (non-mirror) home and away slate seems fairly balanced per the average PWP (and note the average seed is consistent with the PWP). The question is whether new Coach Mike Lonergan can motivate the squad to perform in the face of a challenging road slate.

Temple drew the only slate that would fit the bill for an elite team -- face better teams (Dayton, Duquesne, George Washington, Massachusetts and Xavier) at home, lesser teams (Charlotte, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis) on the road. The seed versus PWP contrast for the road opponents suggests that lineup, like George Washington's, were stronger in front of the home crowd than on the road.

Counter Programming?
On the heels of an unexpectedly good (slump at season's end excepted) season, Duquesne would probably have been better served with a stronger slate of visiting teams than Fordham, La Salle, Massachusetts, Richmond and Saint Joseph's. While there may be a measure of home crowd entertainment value in running up the score on Fordham or Massachusetts, but wide margins may (again?) obscure weaknesses in the Duke program.

Xavier drew a surprisingly balanced slate of single game opponents for both home (Fordham, George Washington, La Salle, Massachusetts and Temple) and the road (Duquesne, Rhode Island, Richmond, Saint Joseph's and St. Bonaventure). Note the home slate has an average seed within the standard deviation, while the road slate seed is just below the range established by the standard deviation (suggesting the Musketeers' hosts are better at home than on the road).

Caveat Emptor
Consider that...
1. The rosters are still taking shape -- at this point it appears that Saint Louis will return 92.8% of their minutes from the 2011 season (plus Kwamain Michell). Last June the Billikens were projected to return 82.7% of their minutes, but only 54% were on the roster when the season started. There are a variety of reasons why players, post NBA draft deadline, do not return to school, and every Atlantic-10 team has lost experienced minutes in June and later in the off season.
2. Timing can make a difference -- Duquesne ran up an 8-0 record through the first half of their 2011 A-10 slate against teams that finished the season with a collective 50-78 (0.391) conference record. Only two of those teams (Temple and George Washington) finished on the upside of 0.500 in their conference games.
3. Coaching changes can affect team dynamics, or not -- Charlotte's Alan Major had a rough rookie season as head coach, while rookie head coach Chris Mack's Xavier squad won the Atlantic-10 regular season title in 2010. George Washington's Coach Lonergan has six years of experience directing Vermont's program (and seven directing D3 Catholic University) before taking over at George Washington; the Colonials should show improvement over their 2011 conference record (health providing...). Dayton's Archie Miller, a long-time assistant, but looking at his first season in charge of a Division 1 program, may have problems matching departed coach Brian Gregory's 7-9 record.

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